Jeremy Hunt ‘scared of Daily Mail reaction’ to HIV-preventing drugs

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt may have avoided throwing his support behind HIV-preventing PrEP drugs because he was scared of a negative reaction.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug Truvada can reduce people’s chances of being infected with HIV by up to 99 percent if taken daily.

Health experts say rolling out PrEP in the UK would be cost-effective if it leads to even a small reduction in HIV infections, as the lifetime cost of just one HIV infection can be up to £380,000.

NHS England declined to make a decision on the drugs earlier this year, suggesting it was up to local councils – but the High Court later ruled that NHS England is indeed responsible for commissioning the drugs after a challenge from an HIV charity.

The Health Secretary has largely declined to intervene in the row, and a leading doctor has now alleged that the Conservative minister was afraid of negative reactions from some parts of the press.

In an interview with The Independent, Professor Sheena McCormack of 56 Dean Street suggested that both NHS England and Mr Hunt “fear the public reaction” to an eventual decision to commission the drugs.

She said: “When I went to see Jeremy Hunt, he said: ‘What will the Daily Mail say?’ and commissioners have said that to me.”

The Department of Health declined to comment on a “private conversation”.

Of course, we now know exactly what the Daily Mail would say.

The Daily Mail led with the story after the court ruling, claiming that the use of the drug represents a “skewed sense of values” because it “encourages” risky sexual behaviour.

The paper claimed that the cost of the “£5000-a-year lifestyle drug” would mean that people would be denied cataract surgery due to the cost of the service, even though NHS England has carried out no official cost-effectiveness assessment of the drug.

Meanwhile, Channel 5’s Wright Stuff reported it as “£20M HIV DRUG FOR GAYS WHO WON’T USE CONDOMS” – though the show’s presenter Matthew Wright insisted coverage was “fair and balanced”.